In Schizophrenia. Christianity. Hope. you will repeatedly find posts discussing the “good news” about treatment for symptoms called schizophrenia. I’m no fool – the symptoms ransack a life. The illness is devastating and cruel on so many levels that it takes my breath away, yet I want to grab at any tendril of goodness whirling in the chaos. Like you, I desperately want to believe that the worst illnesses and afflictions have an end, and that generous souls will help along the way to that end. Above all, I do not want suffering to harden my heart toward God.
Because of my obsession, I single out the threads of hope that I find, whether spiritual or secular. My involvement with the mental health system began in the 70s, back when doctors did not offer any shred of hope. In fact, quite the opposite. If educational organizations existed, no one spoke about their services. Personal computers and the internet did not exist either. Access to information about patient rights or medicinal alternatives came by word of mouth only and few people dared to talk due to stigma.
Fast forward to this decade with its resources and advocacy and perhaps you can see why I have more hope for you. Granted, the resources fall short, but you are talking to each other and helping each other. People openly chip away at the stigma. People don’t just accept the diagnosis with a sad shrug. They fight and join army of fighters online and in their communities.
An even broader community tries to help; in the past 20 years, researchers have published 50,000¹ reports about schizophrenia. The Schizophrenia Research Forum (founded by Hakon Heimer, whose sibling had a diagnosis of schizophrenia) reviewed the studies in 2008 to collate the information and summarize the findings.² The summary might not present any new information to you, but please allow the fact that research is taking place, to comfort you a little bit. Obviously we have a long way to go.
If you compare the “progress” in treatment of disorders of the mind with that of physical diseases such as cancer, you’ll see a common theme. At one time people whispered the “C” word, but now many patients discuss their cancer diagnosis and treatment openly. Forty years ago, on December 23, 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act to strengthen the national effort to conquer the disease. Since then, advances in early detection and better treatments have improved survival rates, but the research has also shown that cancer is really over 150 diseases.³ Scientists have made progress and at the same time discovered a longer road than they thought ahead of them.
The good news of science appears tempered by the complex illnesses of body and mind. Considering recent studies which describe the brain as “about 100 billion specialized cells called neurons linked by 150 trillion or so connections known as synapses,” slow progress seems inevitable. Conventional medicine, alternative therapies, and holistic health care do give relief, and in some cases cure, yet nothing on earth eradicates sickness. Reliance on science and social systems, which both move slowly, can lead to despair. End of story? Hardly.
Years ago a young singer named Julie Miller wrote a song called “My Psychiatrist.” The first verse begins with: “I want to tell you all about my new psychiatrist, I had a lot of others, now I really got the best, He’s always got the answer, he doesn’t have to guess, He’s had much more experience, and costs a whole lot less…”4 She sang about her faith in God and her reliance on his goodness.
I don’t want to trivialize the Christian faith by suggesting God is a good psychiatrist, but I believe Ms. Miller discovered what I did. Beyond any aid offered in this world, scriptural truth and experience of God’s presence girds us up and enables us to endure our diseases and affliction. That might not sound good enough when you’re facing multiple crises and dead-ends, but maintaining hope is crucial to endurance and perseverance. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when it is found, it is a tree of life.” (Prov. 13:12).
Biblical hope reaches into today’s circumstances and beyond, to what we believe is our better life after death. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we’re of all men most miserable.” (ICor. 15:19). Again, such a truth does not necessarily mean the elimination of the problems and agonies we face today, but knowing a change will come—a full redemption—is our ultimate Christian hope. Thankfully, we also experience healings now, growth in character, and growth in grace. We see God’s “wondrous works” in answers to our prayers and to needs we did not even know we had.
God does heal, yet he is not primarily a healer. He does instruct, though he is not primarily a teacher. He is a Savior who forgives sins . . . and shows incredible mercy, and heals, and helps, and corrects, and delivers from destruction. I believe he delivered my life from destruction from a wealth of sin and from what doctors considered an incurable sickness. In science, in medicine, and in Christian faith, I hope to bring good news.
1 “What We Know About Schizophrenia—Introduction” by Angus MacDonald and S. Charles Schulz, Schizophrenia Research Forum. http://www.schizophreniaforum.org/whatweknow/default.asp
2 “What We Know…What We Don’t Know About Schizophrenia” Table, by the Minnesota Consensus Group, Schizophrenia Research Forum. http://www.schizophreniaforum.org/whatweknow/newssearch.asp?categoryID=24&type=all
3 “War on Cancer,” NBC Nightly News. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/#45780472
4 “My Psychiatrist” by Julie Miller. http://www.newreleasetuesday.com/lyricsdetail.php?lyrics_id=16138